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Thursday, September 13, 2007
Belichick ... Oden ... and more good news from Nebraska

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

Respect, wrote the late Pulitzer Prize-winning author David Halberstam, is what Bill Belichick craves most. If so, then Belichick's part in a calculated and clumsy New England Patriots effort to cheat just cost him some of that hard-earned respect.

Eric Mangini (R) and Bill Belichick
Belichick (left) and Mangini aren't on the best of terms these days.
His involvement (even if it was just tacit approval) raises questions about how many past Patriots victories were aided by videotaping opposing defensive signals. Seriously, how many points is it worth to know what pass coverage or blitz package you're going to face? One point? Two? As many as three?

The Patriots' margin of victory in their three Super Bowl wins was, ta-da, exactly three points. And since 2001, 21 of New England's regular and postseason wins were by four points or less. So Belichick has only himself and a camcorder to blame for people questioning the integrity of those past close victories.

That NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to hoodie-whip Belichick and the Patriots goes without saying. A $500K fine for Belichick, a $250K fine for the Pats and the loss of a first-round draft pick (if the Patriots make the playoffs) -- all those penalties work for me. In fact, I would have thrown in a suspension.


Michael Vick and dogfighting. Pacman and Tank. A Sept. 18 Senate hearing on NFL disability and pension benefits. Belichick cheating. Concussion controversies. Sweating out a Tim Donaghy copycat. Hey, Rog, you think Paul Tagliabue is enjoying retirement?


Imagine, say, the Chicago Bears telling the league they're going to skip the NFC Championship Game because they "want to spend more time with their families." That's the FedEx Cup "playoff."

Imagine what the Bears would do if they won the Super Bowl and Goodell told them they'd get their player shares in 2017. (You'd find him taped to a goal post. In Tangiers.) That's the FedEx Cup "playoff."

And I defy anyone (with the exception of CPAs or arbitragers) to explain the FedEx Cup "playoff" points system. Or how you can have 30 players in the final "playoff" tournament, but only six have a mathematical chance (and only four -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Steve Stricker and Rory Sabbatini -- have an actual chance) at winning the deferred $10 million bonus.


Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods is one of four players ... out of 30 ... who can win the FedEx Cup.
Just think if PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem became NFL commissioner.

Versus announcer: "LaDainian Tomlinson, you just won Super Bowl XLII! What are you going to do next?"

Tomlinson: "I'm going to Disney World!"

Versus announcer: "Not for 10 years, you aren't."


For all those who happily mock the NL Central, just a quick reminder that the St. Louis Cardinals won last year's World Series after finishing the regular season just five games above .500 (83-78). Meanwhile, the two teams that finished 32 games above .500 (the New York Yankees and Mets) never made it to the Series. What does it all mean? Absolutely no clue. The thought of the Chicago Cubs or Milwaukee Brewers reaching the World Series makes me want to get a CAT scan.


Lloyd Carr
Lloyd Carr will be one tough sideline interview if he's behind at halftime Saturday.
No. 1 USC travels to No. 14 Nebraska. No. 22 Tennessee goes to No. 5 Florida. No. 10 Ohio State is at undefeated Washington. No. 16 Arkansas is at unbeaten Alabama. No. 9 Louisville plays at unbeaten Kentucky. No. 21 Boston College is at No. 15 Georgia Tech. A pretty respectable third-week lineup of games.

But the Saturday afternoon matchup of two winless teams -- 0-2 Notre Dame vs. 0-2 Michigan -- will get bigger TV ratings than any of those games. Maybe a couple of those games combined. And, please, say a prayer now for ABC sideline reporter Bonnie Bernstein. She'll probably have to interview the coach whose team is losing at the end of the first half.

Bernstein: "Charlie Weis, your offense hasn't scored a touchdown since Jesus walked the earth. What sort of adjustments will you make in the second half?"

Or …

Bernstein: "Lloyd Carr, was that the first time you were booed during pregame warm-ups?"


I want to thank the Philadelphia Eagles for carpet bombing No. 94 on my recent list of top 100 NFL preseason predictions. I said the Eagles would be the last remaining undefeated team before losing to the Patriots on Nov. 25. The stiffs couldn't even make it past Week 1 and the Green Bay Packers.


But I'm looking good on the Atlanta Falcons going winless.


The happiest franchise in America today? The Seattle/Oklahoma City SuperSonics.

If the Portland Trail Blazers had taken Kevin Durant with the No. 1 pick instead of Greg Oden ...


Here's what Gene Upshaw, the staggeringly arrogant and clueless NFL Players Association executive director, said when informed by USA Today that a mass-use blood test for human growth hormone could be available within months: "There's no way I'm having my guys punched for a blood test every time they walk into a locker room."

Here's what he should have said: "Our players have nothing to hide. If the test is proved reliable -- and I understand our friends at the World Anti-Doping Agency say it is -- then the NFLPA is anxious to add HGH testing to our collective bargaining agreement. After all, the credibility of our sport, as well as other sports, is at stake."


The McLaren F1 racing team was fined $100 million and forced to forfeit its standings points after the World Motor Sports Council ruled it had used leaked secret technical documents belonging to rival Ferrari. McLaren team chief Ron Dennis referred all questions to Belichick.


O'Brien & Alston
Spec. Matt O'Brien (left) will see the Huskers play again this Saturday.
I got an e-mail Thursday morning.

U.S. Army Spc. O'Brien is a 22-year-old infantry paratrooper who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and now is suffering from vision loss in both eyes. He is currently receiving tests and treatment at Womack Army Medical Center at Fort Bragg, N.C. I wrote about O'Brien earlier this week.

O'Brien, whose father and younger brother are also serving in Iraq, was raised in tiny Oshkosh, Neb. He grew up idolizing Nebraska football. He's never been to a Cornhuskers game at Memorial Stadium. Until now.

Thanks to the kindness of Barges, O'Brien, as well as O'Brien's mom (whom he hasn't seen in several years), will have tickets to Saturday evening's USC-Nebraska game in Lincoln. And thanks to Omaha radio station AM 590 -- and the Nebraska fans who donated cash during an impromptu fundraising session -- O'Brien has a plane ticket, a hotel room and limo arranged for him. He's also received offers to meet with specialists at the Mayo Clinic and at the University of Texas clinic in Houston.

You don't think sports matters? Try telling it to Matt O'Brien.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com. He co-authored Jerome Bettis' autobiography "The Bus: My Life In and Out of a Helmet," which is available now.